Trauma-Informed Criminal Justice

I woke up this morning feeling deeply grateful (and a bit tired . . . and relieved) for the experience this week of offering trainings about trauma to the staff of Lancaster County Prison and Lancaster County Adult Probation & Parole. And, as has been the case throughout my career, I feel like I learned more from them than they did from us.

Six days, eleven classes, 261 trained LCP staff and 44 trained Probation & Parole staff later, here are a few insights from this week:

  • Corrections professionals have some of the most stressful and under-appreciated jobs in our community. The situations they are exposed to and required to handle are often traumatic, yet there’s a general sense that they have to just “deal with it” and “be strong.”
  • One of the things Grace Marie Hamilton taught me is that she always made sure she showed as much care and concern for the people who worked within the criminal justice system as for those caught up in it – and I was reminded time and time again this week of how absolutely wise and essential it is for me to maintain that perspective.
  • Most of the people who came to this week’s trainings take their jobs very seriously, take pride in their profession, and care deeply about doing their jobs thoroughly and well. Many of them already do some of the things suggested in the training. Yet, the nature of the work can take a huge toll on them, and for some, can lead to cynicism, detachment, diminished capacity to show empathy or compassion, and a belief that nothing will ever change – including the people under their “care, custody and control.”
  • The lack of adequate mental health treatment and resources is a genuine crisis in our criminal justice system (not just here in Lancaster – this is a problem in prisons and jails across the entire country – see https://stepuptogether.org/) – and as a result, staff are placed in the untenable position of having to deal with the significant mental health issues of incarcerated people without access to the necessary mental health expertise and resources to truly address people’s underlying needs. This creates an enormous amount of additional stress and trauma for the staff.
  • As we talked about the connections between trauma, addiction and mental health issues, we acknowledged that much of what’s historically been done for people with mental health and addiction issues is like giving someone aspirin and an ice pack for a broken leg: while those measures might temporarily relieve the pain and reduce the swelling, the leg is still broken – and if what’s broken inside is never addressed, it may continue to “cripple” the person.

I’m deeply grateful to my training team: Allison Weber (SACA), Vanessa Philbert (CAP), Jen Strasenburgh (CompassMark), & Angela Keen (CCP), and my fantastic RMO interns (both Millersville University students) Lindsay Mays (MSW candidate) & Beckah Shenk (BSW candidate).

We are also very grateful to the Walters / Unitarian Church Trust, an endowment from Art and Selma Walters to the Unitarian Universalist Church of Lancaster (UUCL) for funding part of this training through a grant to the RMO. In awarding this grant, the UUCL Board has acknowledged the contributions of the RMO to achieving the vision of inclusiveness among all humans as well as respect for the dignity and worth of each individual, as promoted by the Walters Trust and UUCL. We are deeply honored to have been awarded this grant from the Walters Trust and UUCL.

This first round of trainings for prison and probation/parole staff is the beginning of the RMO’s effort to build the foundation for a trauma-informed criminal justice system in Lancaster County. There’s more to come…but I’m hopeful that this week’s trainings helped to start the conversation.

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Author: melaniegsnyder

Melanie G. Snyder serves as the Director of the RMO for Returning Citizens – a prisoner-reentry initiative that improves community safety by helping people transitioning out of prison get access to the services and treatment they need to lead whole, healthy and crime-free lives. She is a consultant to a number of newly forming prisoner reentry coalitions in other regions and states. Melanie is the author of Grace Goes to Prison: An Inspiring Story of Hope and Humanity (http://www.brethrenpress.com/ProductDetails.asp?ProductCode=1497) and has given a TEDx talk titled “Breaking Out of Prison Thinking” (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lQ_B1g6o_Co) Melanie is a certified instructor for the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Healing Communities model, a National Institute of Corrections certified Offender Workforce Development Specialist, and a SAMHSA-certified instructor for their trauma-informed criminal justice training. She is currently a Baldwin Fellow with the Lancaster County Community Foundation, focusing on trauma and trauma-informed care, and has conducted trainings on trauma, ACEs and related topics for numerous groups across Pennsylvania.

2 thoughts on “Trauma-Informed Criminal Justice”

  1. Our community is so fortunate to have Melanie committed to making our criminal justice system more humane. She spends her life making a difference in the lives of the inmates and, with trauma training, those who are working with the incarcerated! We can sleep better because of Melanie! Thanks, Melanie!

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  2. Melanie,
    So encouraging to know that there are efforts such as this to teach the practice of humanity in places where it is sorely needed. Promising also, is that it will be put into practice by the highly visible and respected guardians of our communities; adding to the value for all of us by their modelling of caring for one another.
    So proud of all your work to improve the lives of all.
    Mom and Dad

    Like

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